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Published by Bob Wattendorf
Fish Busters Bulletin about how fisheries rules are developed and why (2006)
Fish Busters Bulletin about how fisheries rules are developed and why (2006)

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Published by: Bob Wattendorf on Jun 24, 2011
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 Florida Fish BustersSeptember 2006FRESHWATER FISHING REGULATIONS—What’s best for your area?By: Bob Wattendorf, Biologist, Fish and Wildlife Conservation CommissionMore rules or less rules, stricter rules ormore lenient rules, how do you weigh the benefitswhile ensuring safe and sustainable use of Florida’s superlative recreational fishingresources? Why is it that “Lady Justice" is oftenportrayed with the scales of justice in one hand, asword in the other and a blindfold covering hereyes? The common answer is that although notblind herself, the blindfold ensures herimpartiality to all but the facts, and the sword reflects her commitment to enforce the laws. Theimage represents the Greek goddess Themis and/or the Roman goddess Justia, perhaps becausethere are times when it seems you need divine powers to properly regulate even a simple fishery.The Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s (FWC) Division of FreshwaterFisheries Management’s overall mission is “To Manage, Enhance and Preserve Florida’sFreshwater Aquatic Life for Public Benefit.” Our day-to-day objective is “to provide optimum-sustained use” of these resources. The balancing act begins because "optimum" means differentthings to different people, so we try to find out what the local public wants from the resource andprovide it to them in appropriate locations. For instance, in some places people may want atrophy bass fishery-even if all the fish have to be released. In others, they may be moreinterested in a bream and catfish fishery that provides lots of fish to take home for dinner.
Inherent among these choices, we must ensure that we manage the resource not only for currentoptimization but always with an eye to the future so the resource can be “sustained” over thelong haul. “Use” recognizes other values than just harvest; for instance the catch-and-releaseethic and the importance of aquatic habitats to land owners, boaters and others.So . . . our challenge is to balance the future of the resource based on best availablescience, with letting anglers and other citizens enjoy the resource, while at the same timebalancing the goal of optimizing public use in local areas and keeping regulations simple. Onecase in point is “spider rigs.” These are boats with multiple fishing rods, sometimes more than20 per angler that often target black crappie (speckled perch) or other schooling fish. Similarly,some shoreline anglers like to put out multiple poles, sit back and wait for the action to unfold.Although these anglers may increase their odds, they are still restricted to the same bag limit asan angler with a single rod or pole.Many issues come to mind here, but our first concern is the resource. Our biologistsexamine the population number, size and growth rates of fish and evaluate their habitat andavailable forage to get a good idea of the health of a fishery (for instance, the crappie fishery inLake Kissimmee). They also examine the use of the fishery via creels (surveys of anglers todetermine how many fish they are catching and how many anglers are using the resource howoften). From that we determine if the population is being over-fished or remaining stable.Remember that native freshwater fish species have relatively short life spans and naturalmortality often exceeds angling mortality, so allowing some harvest is often good for theresource and does not adversely affect its sustainability. If harvest needs to be regulated, this isnormally handled by creel limits, while size limits can help ensure fish have an opportunity to

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